People who know such things claim there are better than 8.6 billion twenty-dollar bills in circulation in these United States, compared to 1.9 billion tens. Seems counter-intuitive, but the facts don't lie--simply stated, daily we use more twenty-dollar bills than we do ten-spots. Go figure.
That we do figured into yesterday's dramatic decision to alter the currency all of us handle from day-to-day, some more than others of course, some much, much more than others, Bernie would say, and isn't that a crime?
Politics aside (can politics ever be put aside?), it's big news when the bills we all carry put on a fresh face, as soon (in a few years) they will.
For a long time, the seventh President of the United States, President Andrew Jackson had his day on our twenties. That day is over. Andrew Jackson was a war hero--War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans, a member of Congress, a senator from the great state of Tennessee. His family worked underground in the American Revolution.
Let me add that he was also, as such men were in his day, a slaveholder, not a few slaves either. Many. He was a Southerner when rich, white Southerners owned slaves and became rich because they did.
Jackson was, to be sure, the people's President. In that role, he invited the masses to attend his inauguration ball, the first to do so. So many came that the unwashed masses stood on fancy White House chairs in order to get a glimpse of the man who came to be known as "King Mob." Slaves weren't invited. In order to get some of the masses back outside, White House aids dumped the celebratory punch into tubs out on the lawn.
In May of 1830, just a year after he was elected, President Jackson stood before Congress, thrilled with what he'd accomplished in such a short time. The Senate had just passed The Indian Relocation Act, which pushed "the Five Civilized Tribes" (the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) out of centuries-old homelands and removed west of the Mississippi. Of the 16,000 Cherokees forced to leave their homeland, 4000 died on the cold and deadly long walk to what would become Oklahoma, "the Trail of Tears."
Listen to Jackson's announcement of this "happy consummation":
For the record, President Jackson's replacement on the nation's twenty-dollar bill will be Harriet Tubman, an African-American woman, someone who escaped the slavery that Jackson not only condoned but perpetuated. When she escaped from her slave-owner, he put this ad in the Cambridge newspaper.
Ms. Tubman is Minty, "fine looking and about five feet high." Reward? Yes, of course--$100, about $3000 today.
Ms. Tubman's accolades go far beyond having escaped slavery. She was an abolitionist, and an operative, a leader, on the underground railroad for others like her looking for freedom. She was a Civil War nurse, treating Union as well as Confederate wounded. She was a spy who passed military information along to Union forces. Some African-Americans consider Harriet Tubman their own Moses.
If I go looking, I'm sure I'll find dissenters from so dramatic a change in our currency--our twenties will now carry the face of a slave and not a President, after all. Besides, such radical change clearly results from (shudder!) political correctness. That's right.
Some conservative lunatic out in the cheap seats is, right now, bemoaning the sad demotion of "the people's President," Old Hickory. How sad to see the seventh President of these United States so visibly defrocked.
But just a few years ago, during a visit to the Civil War battlefield at Pea Ridge, our family discovered that the park was actually on "The Trail of Tears." We were touring, three generations of Schaaps, when there it was, defined and described by a sign along the road. My grandkids knew nothing about the Trail of Tears, so their grandpa had to tell them.
Then another voice interrupted. their aunt, an Oklahoman, who told the kids that her ancestors, Choctaws, could have walked once long ago on that very path of suffering, a victim like so many of a peculiar American version of ethnic cleansing.
I don't know that her nephew and niece will remember that moment clearly, but that day "the Trail of Tears" took on some meaning, I'm sure.
This morning I'm thankful for billions of 20 dollar bills. Someday each of them will carry the face of Harriet Tubman.
And, yep, I'm thankful for political correctness, too.